February 28, 2005 2:14 PM PST
Illinois seeks to restrict violent games
State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia and Sen. Deanna Demuzio, both Democrats, sponsored legislation authored by Gov. Rod Blagojevich that would subject retailers to a fine of up to $5,000 and a year in prison if they sell a restricted game to anyone under 18.
The bill makes Illinois the latest in a string of state and local governing bodies to tackle growing concern over increasingly graphic games. California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Michigan all have similar proposals working their way through the legislative process, despite the failure of previous efforts to pass judicial scrutiny.
Courts have overturned laws in the state of Washington; St. Louis County, Mo.; and Indianapolis that made it illegal to sell violent games to minors, in each case ruling that games are constitutionally protected speech, and age restrictions thus must be limited to the type of discretionary systems used for movies, books and other media.
Lawmakers and advocacy groups argue that graphically violent games such as the recent hit "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" desensitize children to real-world violence and encourage them to imitate what they see on the TV screen.
"As a society, we've agreed that children do not have a right to certain things that pose a risk to their health or development: things like cigarettes, alcohol and pornography," Blagojevich, also a Democrat, said in a statement. "We know violent and sexually explicit video games pose a direct risk to kids, so we should make every effort to keep them out of kids' hands."
Game industry supporters argue that the industry already has an effective system--content ratings assigned by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and voluntarily imposed by retailers--to ensure that objectionable games aren't sold to children without a parent's consent.
A representative of industry trade group the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
The proposed Illinois legislation could pose additional logistical challenges in that it doesn't rely on ESRB ratings but instead sets its own definition of objectionable content. Games would be restricted if they "include realistic depictions of human-on-human violence, in which the player kills, injures or otherwise causes serious physical harm to another human, including but not limited to depictions of death, dismemberment, amputation, decapitation, maiming, disfigurement, mutilation of body parts or rape."
It's unclear where that leaves games such as the recent smash hit "Halo 2"--rated "Mature" by the ESRB--in which bodily harm is almost solely inflicted on large reptiles from another galaxy.
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